At the San Siro, things didn’t go according to plan for UEFA Champions League overwhelming favourites Barcelona as the Catalan side went down 2-0 against AC Milan to put the 7 times European Champions closer to the quarter-finals. When the draw was made last year, the tie was seen as an opportunity for AC Milan to avenge their controversial quarter-final defeat last season at the hands of the Spanish giants.
Between last season and now, many changes have taken place at both ends. Barcelona have changed guards at the helm with Tito Vilanova replacing Pep Guardiola and AC Milan have also moved to cut their wage bill by sanctioning the sales of two of their biggest stars Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to big spending French giants PSG.
Last season, AC Milan didn’t post a too good result at the San Siro as they could only muster a 0-0 draw allowing the Blaugrana to seize the initiative at the Nou Camp. The goalless draw at the San –Siro last season meant any score draw in Spain would have seen AC Milan through to the Semi-finals but to achieve that, they had to score. Their desire to score meant they couldn’t be overtly defensive, something Italian sides are renowned for and Barcelona simply capitalized on that to rip open their defence thrice to get the goals needed to secure qualification and also nullified the potency of Milan’s away goal.
This time around, things are a bit positive for AC Milan after they secured that all important 2-0 home win. In the Champions League, the best way to make maximum use of your home advantage is to keep a clean sheet and score as many goals as possible to make the away leg a mere formality as possible. The first AC Milan achieved but the second, they didn’t fully achieve.
Two goals cushion is good but against an opposition of Barcelona’s calibre, it is not a safe haven. With players like Messi, Iniesta, Pedro and Alexi Sanchez, scoring goals is not much of a problem for Barcelona. Also, AC Milan aren’t a team that can mount a defensive barrier on two goals. Last season, they held a 4 goal advantage over Arsenal from the first leg at the San Siro but after just the first half at the Emirates, they were already three goals down. Dearth of more firepower on the bench and Van Persie’s profligacy in front of goal when gifted a chance prevented Arsenal from completely upturning the first leg deficit.
In this regards, Barcelona are shoulders and above Arsenal. The Blaugrana possess the deadliest attack both in terms of the starting line-up or quality on the bench. In Messi, Pedro, Iniesta and Fabregas, they have a quartet that can rip any defence open and they could call on Sanchez, Villa and Tello to change things from the bench. Also, Barca are not dead and buried like Arsenal were after just the first leg, the deficit is just 2 goals unlike the Gunners that had 4.
One of the things that counted against Barcelona yesterday was the state of the San Siro pitch. It seems as though the Rossonerris deliberately compromise the quality of their pitch to stifle a football playing side. The same was did when Arsenal played them with Wenger complaining bitterly about the state of the pitch and Barca also encountered the same as the pitch encumbered Barca’s quick passing game. At the Nou Camp, AC Milan would have no hiding place. The Nou Camp pitch is lush green and smooth, Barca would certainly out-pass their opponents swiftly.
Another factor that might just work in Barca’s favour would be the Nou Camp crowd. The Barca fans have always been pivotal in key matches, their roars and shouts can make the referee take a decision favourable to Barcelona. If Milan would stand a chance, they must be ready to ignore the crowd and also ready to play against the referee.
But if AC Milan’s 2 goals cushion is not good enough to defend at the Nou Camp, what would I say about Chelsea that had a solitary goal to defend there? Every team has their own bogey team, Chelsea is Barca’s bogey team. The Blaugranas have never found it easy beating the Blues and Chelsea seem to have perfected the art of bus parking. In the whole of Europe, I doubt if there is any team that can park the bus like the Chelsea team Mourinho assembled? Chelsea are also the only side Messi hasn’t scored against. There are many odds stacked against Barcelona when the opposition is Chelsea, Milan do not have the luxuries of these odds.
What does it take for Barcelona to turn the tide at the Nou Camp? The Catalans must hope for an early goal. This would calm their nerves and also put Milan on the edge. This was the ploy Arsenal employed, the moment Koscielny got a goal within 4 minutes the game started, Milan lost their composure, allowing Arsenal to seize the initiative. That same half, the Gunners were able to score two more goals.
Barcelona also need to keep it tight at the back. I have always maintained Valdes is one of the most overrated goalkeepers in Europe. The Spanish keeper is poor to say the least. If Barca hope to win, they need to make sure he doesn’t have much to do. Barca are ultra offensive but they need to keep an eye on their defence and make sure Milan do not steal an away goal.
Barca also need to take their chances. Milan would come to the Nou Camp with the aim to defend stoutly and hit Barca on the counter but no matter how much they defend, Barca would still carve them open but taking those chances is another kettle of fish. They cannot afford to be wasteful. Profligacy in front of goal against Chelsea at the Stamford Bridge cost them the tie but considering the fact that they didn’t have too many chances at San Siro, they should be at their ruthless best at Nou Camp.
Since am an unbiased umpire, how can AC Milan leave the San Siro with a result that would ensure their progression? They must avoid an early goal. It was an early goal that nearly made mince meat of their 4 goal advantage against Arsenal. If they must stand a chance of survival at Nou Camp, they must prevent Barca from scoring early in the game, at least before 10 minutes.
They must keep it tight at the back. AC Milan are not always at their defensive best when playing away from home but if they are to prevent Barca mauling, they must keep it tight, Mexes, Zapata and Abate must be disciplined and focused for 90 minutes.
Also, AC Milan must aspire to score an away goal. I know they have a 2 goal cushion from the first leg but an away goal would set Barca back many miles, it would mean instead of needing 3 goals to win the tie, they would have to score 4 and if Milan can score 2 goals, Barca would have to score 5. Scoring an away goal shouldn’t be too difficult as Barca’s defense isn’t the best around and in Valdes, they have an extremely weak point. A barrage of shots at him could see one ending in the net.
If the unlikely happens and Barca are eliminated by AC Milan, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich would be the happiest as they see the Blaugrana as the only side that can prevent any of them from winning the UEFA Champions League this season. They stopped Real Madrid in the semi-finals two seasons ago and Manchester United in the final the same season. Am very sure AC Milan would have new fans at the Nou Camp urging them on and they would be Red Deviils, Los Blancos and Bavarians after all, the enemy of an enemy is my friend at least for now.
Barca have scored 7 goals in 3 home UEFA Champions league fixtures this season with an average goal ratio of 2.33
AC Milan have conceded 4 goals in the 3 away UEFA Champions League ties played this season with average conceding ratio of 1.33.
Barcelona have scored 40 La Liga goals at the Camp Nou in just 24 games conceding just 9.
AC Milan have conceded 19 goals away in the Serie A and scored 22.
The statistics show that Barcelona are at their ruthless best when playing at home. They have scored the same amount of goals at home and away in the La Liga but they have conceded far less (just 9 goals) at home in the La Liga this season. Milan would have to be at their very best to withstand the attacking fury of Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
Written By Kolade Omotosho